It’s no secret that every team begins the NHL season with the goal of winning the Stanley Cup.
It is also no secret that some teams simply are not ready to accomplish that goal.
Realistically speaking, for every team that appears poised for a strong playoff run, there is a team in rebuilding mode, trying to work its way back to contender status as quickly as possible.
For these struggling franchises, success is not measured by hoisting a Stanley Cup or even by making the playoffs.
Instead, success comes from improving upon last year’s record and staying competitive in their division races, even if a playoff appearance is not the end result.
Here are five teams whose seasons will be successes if they finish fourth or better in their respective divisions.
The Jets’ year of rebirth went well, all things considered. The franchise was only months removed from being the Atlanta Thrashers when 2011-12 began and Winnipeg remained competitive all season.
Ultimately, the Jets would finish fourth in the Southeast and eight points out of a playoff spot.
The team added Olli Jokinen in the offseason, but the playoffs might not be a realistic goal yet.
The Southeast Division has vastly improved. The Carolina Hurricanes, who finished last in the division, are greatly improved and the Caps, Panthers and Lightning are all expected to be in the mix for a playoff spot.
The Winnipeg faithful may not be happy missing the playoffs two years in a row, but given the fact that the rest of the division is legitimately competitive, finishing outside the basement would mean more in 2012-13 than it did in 2011-12.
The odds are stacked against the lowly Blue Jackets, who have the misfortune of not only being the worst team in hockey, but simultaneously playing in the toughest division in hockey.
Last season, all four other teams in the Central Division not only qualified for the playoffs, but also made up four of the top six seeds. 2012-13 should be similar. The Predators and Red Wings may struggle to repeat their incredible success, but they will remain competitive.
It is not unreasonable to expect at least three of these teams to qualify for the playoffs again, making a finish outside the basement nearly impossible for the Blue Jackets.
Thus, even being in the conversation with the other four teams will be an accomplishment for Columbus. A fourth-place finish? Forget it, that’s the equivalent of the Stanley Cup for the Blue Jackets.
The Ducks were undoubtedly disappointed to finish last in the Pacific in 2011-12, given their playoff appearance the year prior and the dangerous top line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan.
Anaheim will likely bounce back under new head coach Bruce Boudreau, but the rest of the Pacific Division remains highly competitive.
Even the Dallas Stars look better equipped to make a run at the playoffs, having added valuable veterans Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney to mold the culture of a young, exciting team.
The Ducks desperately need to bounce back this season, especially in the wake of impending unrestricted free agency for Perry and Getzlaf. Remaining competitive in the Pacific could go a long way toward extending one or both of them.
With one of the youngest and most dynamic offenses on the planet, it is time for the Edmonton Oilers to turn top picks into success.
The postseason would be a must for the team if the goaltending and defense were more reliable. Unfortunately, the back half of the ice is unproven for Edmonton and the only truly realistic goal at the moment is a third- or fourth-place finish in the Northwest.
The Central and Pacific Divisions are simply too good for more than two teams to come out of the Northwest, and the Oilers will be competing hard with the Avalanche, Wild and Flames to join the Canucks in the postseason.
Finishing out of the basement of the division would prove that all the time the team has spent rebuilding might pay off in the near future.
Since that season, the team has attempted to build around players like Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit with no success. The team finally has its superstar in John Tavares, but one man cannot carry this team.
The Atlantic Division features two teams with strong Stanley Cup hopes in the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, along with the dark-horse Flyers looking to remain competitive. On top of it, the defending Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils appear to be the only team within the Isles’ striking range.
With a postseason appearance completely unrealistic, look for the Islanders to find hope in small steps, steps that hopefully include a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Division.